Climate change deniers now have leverage according to recent reports that a major academic journal has suppressed the findings of a study that would sway readers’ previously held views on the actual rate of climate change. The same journal, the Environmental Research Letters, was criticized last year for endorsing an article that stated 97 percent of climate change reports agree with the hypothesis that the change is anthropogenic, or human caused. The criticism levied at the journal brings up an important component of the argument between deniers and assenters, one that has been highlighted in numerous studies this year: deniers are not typically swayed by the scientific evidence supporting climate change. In the interest of inciting the public’s pro-environmental reaction to climate change reports, scientists have taken the steps to ascertain what influences are at play behind climate change deniers.
One such study this January out of WIREs Climate Change, a journal that emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research, has found that divergent beliefs about climate change have more to due with one’s values than with scientific research. According to the study’s findings, this is supported by “the degree of political polarization” that surrounds the issue of climate change. It is worth noting that the study in question understands “values” in the abstract to be akin one’s worldview, which can thereby be measured according to one’s political affiliation or political ideology.
This is significant in terms of climate engagement, namely, the likelihood that an individual or group will take action based on the science behind climate change, because it binds action with one’s values, not scientific evidence. This assessment is built upon people’s beliefs about what is referred to as “emergent attitude objects.” Essentially, people will formulate their attitude about an emergent object (in this instance, climate change) based on their perception of how the issue affects their personal values, the study said. Also at play in emergent attitude objects is how an individual sways on a scale of altruism versus self-promotion.
Nature Climate Change published a study that similarly found there to be a disconnect between climate change deniers and scientific evidence. The study corroborated the findings that beliefs about climate change tend to be more ideologically driven, but added that pro-environmental action on behalf of deniers is not a lost cause. The study concluded that people are more likely to engage in pro-environmental action, whether it is on a personal or a legislative level, if they are convinced that it is in the best interest of the community at large. Positive societal effects are better motivating factors for action than scientific research, according to the study. The sway is about society, not science.
What these studies show is that climate change deniers are not going to undergo any type of conversion based on scientific findings that support climate change. However, gaucheries such as the one made by Environmental Research Letters give deniers more ground on which to stand.
The research done by WIREs Climate Change and Nature’s Climate Change journals suggests that the best tactical approach for inciting pro-environmental action is to address it from a stance that highlights its societal benefits rather than its justification in scientific fact. Emphasis on society at large has more sway on deniers than does the underlying science.
By Courtney Anderson